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Over the past decade or so, Christian rap artist KJ-52 (that's "five-two") has released ten albums. But to some fans of the genre he's best known for a single that created ripples of controversy all the way to MTV. That track is "Dear Slim," an open letter to the vile, enormously popular rapper Eminem (aka Marshall Mathers or Slim Shady). I spoke with KJ about that song, music's influence on young people, and what else he's doing to make a difference for God.

When did you write "Dear Slim," and what was going on that inspired you—with all the troubled artists out there—to direct your messages to Eminem?
I think I initially wrote it in 2000 or 2001. The only real reason to write it was that I was getting compared to him, and getting frustrated. So I thought, How can I flip this on its head? What would I say to him? That's where the song came from. I kind of knew about him before he even got big. He was in the underground club scene. I was doing a lot of open mics and battles and things like that. Later I found that we had similar backgrounds, and it snowballed from there.

You were frustrated because a lot of people were comparing your style to his. But at some point you saw an opportunity within that to reach his fans with a redemptive message, right?
Yeah, exactly. The thing is I had [my own style established] before he even came out, so the comparisons got frustrating in that sense. But finally I just decided my artistic pride is not really that important compared to what God can do. So from there I just kinda said, Well it is what it is, if this gets you closer and helps you, then so be it.

At one point in the song you tell Eminem you're praying for him to find peace in Christ. But just before that, you challenge him with a question: "What about the effect you have on kids? Do you ever stop to think about the millions you influence?" Talk about the profound impact music can have on young people.
Music has a way, just from a common sense standpoint, of riling up certain emotions. So many people are saying, "This music is influencing me negatively," I thought, as another artist, we don't realize the affect we have. Honestly, and I'm saying that from my own perspective. I suddenly thought, Hmm, this is something I have to impact my own life with when I sit to write or make music.

We hear that a lot. Especially after artists have children of their own, a switch gets flipped and they realize the impact they have. They start seeing their kids walking around the house, singing songs they had no idea they would get the lyrics to.
Yeah, it's very true. Personally, hip-hop dominated everything about who I was. It shaped my worldview. It shaped the way I dressed, the way I thought, the way I spoke, every aspect. It was very subtle. I didn't even realize it until looking back going, Now I'm on the other side. I'd better think about this. Spiritually we need to be filling ourselves with the things that connect us to who God is in our lives. Scripture is very clear. Philippians 4:8 says, "Whatever is pure, whatever is holy, whatever is admirable, think of these things." Media can help you think on those things, or just opposite. And that's where we have to determine what we're going to do with this.

Your Eminem connection didn't end with "Dear Slim." A couple years later you wrote "Dear Slim Part 2." Why?
Honestly, I just did not think through what I wrote on "Dear Slim." I shouldn't say I didn't think through it; I did think through it, but I had no idea it was going to go where it went, so I felt like I needed to clarify everything.

When you say "where it went," what do you mean?
He got a copy of it backstage at the VMAs [MTV's Video Music Awards]. MTV decided to take the video and really skew it, not give it a fair shot, and paint me as something I wasn't. VH1 ran The 40 Worst Moments of Hip-Hop, and put me on it at No. 26. I got to speak with Eminem's ex-wife when she was in jail. So it's been this ongoing saga, and that's just on the surface. There are so many other things. So I thought, Let me clarify everything I want to say, make sure what I've said is exactly how I wanted to say it, and that's it and walk away.

In a nutshell, what was the point of "Dear Slim"? If you'd had an audience on MTV and been able to explain it to them, what would you have told them?
I think the issue was basically saying, "You know what? I see a little bit of myself in you. I see a little bit of you in me. I see some similar situations. My life took a turn at one point. Because I feel sort of a relatability there, I just want to share what I have to say." And that's really it. And then it was a matter of taking that along with everything else that was going on at the time and putting it together. Music is a conversation, and I felt like I had to [engage in] a conversation.

In both songs you mention that you pray for Eminem daily, is that still the case?
Certainly. Now, obviously, he's in a different space. There has actually been a response recently. On his Relapse record, on a bonus song on iTunes called "Careful What You Wish For," he talks about a fan who prays for him and how it's been weighing on his heart. He goes on to say, "Why would you pray for somebody you don't know?" From there he says he appreciates the prayers, but he already has God on his side. Without name-checking me it sounds eerily similar to everything that's gone into this. Not that this is cause for "Dear Slim Part 3." I mean, I'm done. I've been done. I just wanted to say what I had to say and leave it at that.

At Plugged In we often try to help people understand that we need to pray for these artists, not just because we want cleaner entertainment, but because God cares for their souls.
And maybe it got misconstrued that this is a crusade to save Eminem. That was never the case, and I usually say this live, "Guys, this is just what we should do for those around us, period. When we see people struggling, why not pray for them? Why not lift them up? Why not let them know that's what we're doing?" I think it's biblical, and it's something I do, period.

We don't want anyone to walk away thinking of you only as the Christian rapper who tried to reach out to Eminem. If people spend a little time browsing, they'll see that your ministry involves a lot more than that. But tell us what you're doing these days.
I've been trying to do a lot of practical ministry. I do an audio Bible podcast where I walk people through Scripture one chapter at a time. I do a video devotional every Monday. I do an audio podcast. And I've tried to partner with other ministries to redirect kids who are struggling with issues like cutting or suicide or anorexia. I realize the music is one aspect of what I do, but it's also a launching point for a lot of other things.

Published February 2010